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Robots Help Families Connect with Older Loved Ones Despite Coronavirus Restrictions

March 24, 2020

KARE-11 reported on this story, which was then shown nationwide via NBC. Watch and read the KARE-11 story here. You can also read a story that talks about how families are connecting with loved ones.

Four Cassia assisted living and skilled nursing communities are using a special Beam Robot from Suitable Technologies to help families visit loved ones. Now, Suitable Technologies has decided to send more robots so Cassia can bring them to a larger number of residents and families.

The Beam is in the class of robots called communication or “telepresence robots”, used for video chat using a Wi-fi or cellular network. The device has a rolling base, like a Roomba (robot vacuum), with a four-and-a-half-foot tall post and an iPad-like tablet on the top, all integrated.

A family or staff member uses a computer or tablet to drive the robot from a remote location to initiate a video chat session with a resident or loved one. The robot user doesn’t need to know or do anything with the technology. All he or she needs to do is enjoy the virtual visit.

The Beam robot was originally designed for people working from home to help them attend meetings. When Director of Cassia Technology Integration and the Learning Lab Kate Ingalls-Maloney heard about this, she flew out to Suitable Technologies’ Palo Alto headquarters and asked about testing the robot with the older adults Cassia serves. Suitable Technologies agreed, asking Kate to report back on whatever she learned.

As it evolved, the robot technology proved to be very helpful in connecting older adults with their loved ones living at a distance. With visiting restrictions in place in most if not all assisted living and skilled nursing communities, the robot can now allow people to connect quickly and easily.

“We are so excited to have this robot,” says Haven Homes Administrator Katie Novotny. Haven Homes in Maple Plain is the first of Cassia’s skilled nursing communities to be able to offer this technology. “It will create more socialization opportunities for residents at a time when they really need it,” Novotny adds. “Last night I drove it around and talked with all the residents, and had so many enthusiastic responses. People said it was really brightening their day.”

Cassia currently has eight robots originally donated by Suitable Technologies, but demand far outpaces supply and the robots can be expensive. When the company called Ingalls-Maloney this week to say they want to share more robots to help people deal with the Coronavirus quarantine, Ingalls-Maloney eagerly accepted the offer.

For more information about the robot and Cassia’s Learning Lab, which helps older adults and their families become aware of technology to age in place and live more independently, please visit www.thelearninglab.org.

About the Learning Lab

The mission of the Cassia Learning Lab is to connect older adults, their families and care partners with technologies that help people age actively, independently and safely within their chosen homes and Cassia communities. In their welcoming storefront environment, Lab staff members demonstrate a variety of health and safety technologies that support aging in place. User-friendly educational materials and one-on-one coaching help increase understanding and comfort with useful technology tools.

About Cassia

Cassia’s mission is to foster fullness of life for older adults in the spirit of Christ’s love. In 2018, Augustana Care and Elim Care voluntarily joined together to form Cassia, reinforcing both organizations’ missions. With more than 200 years of combined service, the affiliation strengthens our focus on meeting the needs of residents, clients and patients of all faiths. The name “Cassia” ('KAS e– uh) was inspired by an anointing oil made from the bark of the Cassia tree and is said to symbolize the heart of a servant. Cassia provides independent and assisted living communities, memory care, skilled nursing care centers, short-term rehabilitation centers, adult day programs and a variety of community-based services for older adults across five states.